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Thursday, May 05, 2011

On Current Events

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On Current Events

Rabboisai,

I am very sorry I ran a rerun Drasha last week. To be honest, I was out of town on a special “Yeshiva mission”. I am not at liberty to tell you exactly where I was, but let’s just say that I started the weekend at a very large Chassanah in Europe, and ended the weekend performing a Levaya on a US Navy ship somewhere in the seas of South Asia. VeHamayvin Yavin.

Trust me: When El Mulay Rachamim is translated into Arabic, it sounds a lot like one of Reb Oivadia Yoisaiph’s weekly drashas.

How should a Ben Toirah think about the death of Oisama Bin Ladin? Is it a time for cheering and merriment? Is it a time for joyous partying and music, even during Sefirah, Chass V’Sholom? Is it a time for raucous celebration, preferably with a hot Shiksa, a cow, a video camera, and plenty of batteries? Or should we have a more somber attitude, tinged with introspection?

Undoubtedly you are assuming that I jest, that I am making Laiytzanis. But, indeed, I must point out what should be obvious to you, you Minuval. Oisama Bin Laden, or Reb Assi as we called him back in Yeshivah, was a terrible, villainous human being… but even the most hated of men have their redeeming qualities. Look at Rabbi Shmuley Boiteach.

So what were Oisama Bin Ladin’s redeeming qualities?

-- Oisama hated Avoidah Zorah, as do I. The Toirah commands us to destroy Avoidah Zorah – to crush it and burn it and uproot it. Just like Pinchas Ben Elazar who stuck a spear through a couple for being Mezaneh in public in the Midbar without protection, Oisama was a Kana’i, a zealot. Is this not a characteristic that we sometimes embrace?

-- Oisama was a big believer in Tzniyus. He always covered his head, and, I assure you, all of his dozen or so wives covered theirs. He believed in a strict separation of the genders. As in Williamsburg, he never allowed women to drive… unless they were in a car loaded with explosives. And he absolutely abhorred the Pritzuss that is a constant in the external secular environment. I don’t know about you, but I cannot bearing looking at all the hot Shiksas with their exposed cleavage at this time of year – It makes me want to go off to a room by myself, usually for not more than five minutes, if you know what I mean.

-- Oisama was a strong believer in Loi Sifsach Peh LaSatan – Do not open the mouth of the devil, meaning do not give him the opportunity to commit his evil works. When Oisama’s co-religionists disagreed with his Hashakafah, there was no need for debate. There was no free expression of one’s conscience. There was no granting other Muslims an opportunity to sway broader Muslim public opinion. There was no tolerance of the liberal media, Chass V’Sholom. There was simply Chapzem, just with suicide bombers.

So, indeed, Oisama had many traits that we can relate to in our Frum community. Of course, he was also a bloodthirsty murderer who killed thousands of innocents, and he would have killed all of us if he had the chance. But nobody’s perfect. (I myself once forgot to make an Asher Yatzar after making pish-vasser on a rock in the middle of the Grand Canyon, after being bitten on the Schvatzyl by a rattlesnake. At least the snake had a giant meal, if you know what I mean.)

Sometimes I am learning in the Yeshivah, and my Talmidim think that I am entranced by a Gevaldikkeh Toisfois when I am really in the middle of an LSD flashback, and I overhear my Talmidim speak in awe of the environment espoused by Oisama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Would that we only had an environment where Halacha was in full force, where women dressed with great Tzniyus, where the secular could not practice their evil ways. Would that there would be limited or no Internet, limited or no television, and all social and political decisions made by religious authorities.” And it is at those moments that I want to go and smack those Minuvals in their heads with a big Gemarrah for living in a fantasy world.

The Toirah has rules and guidelines, but is not about authoritarianism. Even during Malchuss Bais Dovid the will of the king was balanced by the voices of the prophets and the leadership of the Koihanim. Even in the time of the Sanhedrin Rabban Gamliel could be deposed as Nasi for showing disrespect to Rabbi Yehoishua and was temporarily replaced by Rebbi Elazar Ben Azariah. Ours is a culture and legacy of balance and dignity and mutual respect, not of absolute rule.

Nowhere is this approach towards balance and tolerance better illustrated than in the Gemarrah itself. What makes the Talmud, and our broader culture, unique is our openness to debate. The Mishnah does not give one sided absolutes. It shares debates, and then states the accepted position. The Gemarrah follows the Mishnah, and tries to understand those debates, the circumstances, the nuances. And the Rishoinim and Acharoinim follow, adding more richness in the quest for the truth. These were clear constants in Toiradikkah society: A culture of dialogue and debate and an intellectual environment of imagination and creativity, combined with a real shitload of spare time.

Some of these debates touch upon practical issues: Bais Shammai argues that Chanukah candles are lit beginning with eight candles on the first night, diminishing by one every night; Bais Hillel holds that we start with one candle, and add one more every day. Did Bais Shammai ever attack Bais Hillel, or take hostages? Never (although Bais Hillel students once did steal Bais Shammai’s Pushka money).

Some of the debates are more esoteric and focus on theoretical issues. Full tractates of the Gemarrah focus on the subtleties of Karbanois, ritual animal sacrifice, which ended with the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 CE. In a Gemarrah in Brachois, Rav and Shmuel argue over the color of Moishe Rabbeinu’s eyes (we Paskin they were hazel). Between the 12th and 13th centuries there is a famous Machloikess between the RAMBAM and the RAMBAN on Miriam Haneviya’s cup size – the RAMBAM held it was a Baiz, and the RAMBAN believed it was a Double Daled, based on a Passuk in Bamidbar. Ultimately, the RASHBAH settles the debate by suggesting that Miriam was in fact flat-chested, and used different sized “falsies” based on her mood. Shoyn.

Rabboisai, ours is a culture of debate. There is a very well known, oft cited adage: “Illu V’Ilu Divrei Eloikim Chayim” – “Whether the right answer is one or another position in a Rabbinic debate, the words of the Divine live”. In other words, we sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum and bring holiness into His world when we engage in thoughtful debate. Debate is not destructive, but constructive. So even when that ignorant, self aggrandizing buffoon Shmuley Boiteach speaks, we should not silence him, but, rather, we should listen to him and see him as a source of humor.

I am reminded of a famous Ma’aise Shehoyo. The Brisker Ruv was once sitting in the Schvitz with the Chofetz Chaim on Friday morning. Said the Brisker, “You know Yisroel Meir, I cannot wait until after Shabbos dinner tonight. It is double mitzvah night, and my Bashert assures me that this week is definitely hunting season.”

The Chofetz Chaim turned to him with a deeply concerned look, sweat dripping off his face from the heat of the Turkish bath. “Reb Velvel” he said, “I appreciate your youthful enthusiasm, but didn’t you know that you are not allowed to be Mekayaim Tashmish HaMitah on Shabbos-Koidesh because of a Chashash that it might be a Melachah”

With a look of curiosity, the Brisker asked, “What kind of Melachah?”

The Chofetz Chaim answered. “This is a Givaldikkeh Machloikess. According to The TAZ, Tashmish HaMitah on Shabbos is a Toildah of Zoireah, seeding. According to the SMAG , it is a Chashash of Choiraish, plowing. According to the RITVAH, it is an Av Melachah of Lush, kneading. And according to the Mechabair, it is a D’Rabbonan of Melabain, whitening.”

“And which one do you think it is?” the Brisker asked.

“I believe it is a Dioiraisah of Goizaz, shearing, since all of the thrusting may cause a hair to be plucked out, Chass V’Sholom.”

The discussion ended there.

The next morning the Brisker entered Shul with a big smile on his face. The Chofetz Chaim was already in his seat, counting his Tzitzis by using them to floss his teeth. The Brisker reported, “Yisroel Meir, last night I did the double mitzvah, and made sure not to commit an Aveirah by insisting that both my wife and I shave before Shabbos!”

The Chofetz Chaim hugged his fellow Rabbi with pure joy. That day he made certain that the Brisker was given Maftir and the Haftoirah, and, immediately following Davening, debriefed the Brisker about every minute intimate detail over shots of Shlivovitz.

Rabboisai, I raise these points out of love for your Neshamah and for the broader Klal Yisroel. We mark Sefirah every year by depriving ourselves of pleasure in order to recall the Sinas Chinum that existed amongst the students of Rabbi Akiva. We must be on guard everyday again Sinas Chinum in our own communities and in the broader society. We must embrace tolerance, and stand vigilant against the development of an authoritarian environment similar to that pursued by Oisama Bin Laden, Iran, or the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. And if you show any signs of speaking ill of others inside or outside the Yeshivah, do not listen to your Rabbanim, or misbehave in any other way, you Mechutziff, I will send home a note to your parents, suspend you from the Yeshivah for a week, and post nasty rumors about you and an underage goat on Facebook.

Ah Gutten, Peaceful Shabbos Koidesh, You Minuval.

4 comments:

E said...

I myself am very makpid to avoid Zoyreiya on Shabbos, so I make sure to turn the table upside down.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein said...

Reb Chiya Bar abba used to turn the table upside down, with the legs of the table sticking up in the air. But it was hard to do as he got older, so instead he lay the table sideways

Baal Habos said...

The snake had a giant meal? I didn't know you're a ger! ;)

Itchemeyerb said...

I love your stuff rabbi pinky. I've been following your blog for a while, and decided to open up my own at yeshivaforum.wordpress.com. please let me know what you think, and if you want to contribute, I'd love to have you on board.